Wyoming Supreme Court Hears DUI Testing Case

By | April 18, 2013

The Wyoming Supreme Court is considering whether the state constitution is adaptable to changing technology when it comes to police officers obtaining search warrants to draw blood or perform other tests on people suspected of drunken driving.

The court heard oral arguments Tuesday on a joint appeal from two motorists who submitted to testing only after a Teton County judge gave authorization to officers over the phone. The state adopted the law allowing telephonic approval for DUI testing in 2011, and this is its first challenge before the Supreme Court.

The court took the case under advisement and will issue a ruling later.

Lawyers for motorists Dena T. Blomquist and Terry Smith argue that evidence of their clients’ blood-alcohol levels should be suppressed in their cases because the search warrants don’t meet the constitutional requirements for written affidavits. The state contends that the telephone warrants are as valid as ones with written affidavits because the conversation between the officer and the judge is recorded and the officer provides sworn testimony over the telephone.

Circuit Court Judge James L. Radda of Jackson denied Blomquist and Smith’s motions to suppress the evidence of their blood-alcohol testing last spring.

According to court papers, both Smith and Blomquist entered conditional guilty pleas to charges of driving while under the influence while reserving the right to appeal Radda’s ruling. Attempts to reach lawyers for Smith and Blomquist for comment weren’t successful.

Radda stated in his order that the police officers who had stopped Blomquist and Smith in separate incidents in July 2011 called him on recorded lines. The judge said he placed the officers under oath before they described to him how they came to stop the motorists.

Radda wrote that he gave the officers permission to perform tests, which resulted in a blood draw from Smith and a breath test from Blomquist.

During Tuesday’s hearing, justices inquired whether a rigid reading of the state constitution disallows changing technology that helps make for a more efficient legal system and whether the telephone warrants can be applied to cases other than just DUIs.

Richard Stout and Christopher Leigh, attorneys for Blomquist and Smith, argued that affidavits by police officers must be in written form.

“I just believe this affidavit requirement must be respected,” Stout said.

Leigh said allowing officers to obtain search warrants over the phone was a “scary” expansion of the state’s search powers.

But Terry Rogers, arguing for the state, countered that an affidavit is still valid whether written on paper or recorded over the telephone.

Technological advances shouldn’t be sacrificed by the “purely ritualistic” written requirement in obtaining search warrants, he said.

“It does no injustice to the constitution,” Rogers said.

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